Fri
Jul 25 2008 8:52pm

Your Weekend Getaway: Hal Duncan and Jeffrey Ford

Hal Duncan and Jeffrey Ford relax at World Fantasy 2006 in Austin, TX

Welcome to what will be a regular Friday feature from me. I am going to post a Weekend Getaway every Friday. This will be a link to a piece of short fiction that's available online for free. I'll discuss the piece(s) and give you links. Then you feel free to play in the comments and provide your thoughts on the work. This week, I'm making it easy on myself and linking to two pieces that appeared in Electric Velocipede and are online.

The two gentlemen in the photo are Hal Duncan (in the tux) and Jeffrey Ford (in red). Hal is a Scottish author who has published two novels to date: Vellum and Ink. The two novels together comprise The Book of All Hours. Jeffrey Ford is an American author who has won the World Fantasy Award, the Nebula Award, and the Edgar Award for his stories and novels.

Here are the stories:

"The Chiaroscurist" by Hal Duncan

"The Way He Does It" by Jeffrey Ford

Read below the fold to get the story behind the story.

 

I received Hal's story for "The Chiaroscurist" as a submission to Electric Velocipede in the Fall of 2004. At the time, Hal had only published a story or two. I don't even know if his novel had been sold yet. Things have changed quite a bit since then.

I had issued a challenge online for writers to use a spelling-bee winning word to write a story (this was later expanded into an anthology). Hal and his group of Glasgow writers took up the challenge and sent in stories. Hal's was quite a bit longer than the typical thing I published. I knew the story had to be particularly good for me to devote as much space as it was going to take up in my issue.

As I read from one page to the next, it kept getting better.

I silently cursed this Hal Duncan character, whoever he was, I knew I had to publish this story.

As luck would have it, Hal was coming to New York on a trip, and we decided to meet up for lunch in Manhattan. I was able to tell Hal in person that I was accepting his story. The story was published in issue #9 of Electric Velocipede, which debuted at Worldcon in Glasgow, where Hal's novel Vellum was also debuting. There was a bit of a furor at the time about Hal's book (they had made a pseudo limited edition of the ARC which was selling for ridiculous amounts of money) and subsequently the issue sold out almost before I got home to the States.

Because the issue sold out, I decided to put all the stories online for free. I did reprint the issue, but I spoke the authors, and they all agreed to leave the stories online for your reading pleasure. Later, the story was a cornerstore in my spelling-bee anthology, Logorrhea.

I was a fan of Jeffrey Ford's long before I found out he lived in the same state (the state of New Jersey, not a state of mind) as I did. I had read his Well-Built City trilogy (The Physiognamy, Memoranda, and The Beyond) and was blown away by them. There was this incredible blend of wildly vivid imagination with a sense of comfort. Eventually Jeff and I met and we talked about him sending me a story.

Jeff was working on a bunch of novels at the time, and was not getting anything from his short story muse. I didn't bug Jeff, as I had plenty of things to work on myself. Jeff posted a bunch of writing exercises online from the classes he teaches set in a place called Botchtown. (they are no longer online that I can find) I thought they were fun and would work well sprinkled throughout an issue, since they were often only a few hundred words.

I asked Jeff, and he agreed to publish them in Electric Velocipede. Then, as he took another look at them, he began to have ideas. Eventually, the small writing exercises were expanded into the novella "Botchtown" that appeared in his collection The Empire of Ice Cream. The story won the World Fantasy Award, and was expanded even further into his novel The Shadow Year.

What does all that have to do with a free story? Well, Jeff felt bad that he had agreed to publish the short pieces in my magazine and then reneged on it. It didn't bother me, and in retrospect, taking those stories back has been a lot more lucrative for Jeff than publishing them in a small magazine.

What did happen, however, was Jeff wrote "The Way He Does It" for Electric Velocipede. The story was nominated for a World Fantasy Award (the same year as "Botchtown" and Electric Velocipede itself were nominated), which is remarkable considering the limited distribution that Electric Velocipede has. We placed the story online so that as people as possible had access to it.

Enjoy the free stories and enjoy your weekend.

[photo taken by me at World Fantasy Convention, 2006 in Austin, TX]

5 comments
Jeffrey Richard
1. neutronjockey
You got buried by the SDCC posts...I'll give a thorough reading and provide some conversation when I've had a couple hours of down time. At the moment: brain=cheese.
Jonathan Wood
2. JWood
Who doesn't love free fiction? Thank you, sir!
John Klima
3. john_klima
@neutronjockey Yeah I saw that. I might link back to myself in a post today, since there were so many other posts after mine.
Jeffrey Richard
4. neutronjockey
There's a lot of difficulty in writing about creative people and their creative processes... I think Hal Duncan does it very well. It took a couple of paragraphs in until I was completely immersed and not distracted --- but once I was in, I was in. A little sad to let go at the end. Mechanically there are a few sentences that linger a little too long, but given the represent time/place of the piece itself I'd say it's appropriate.

Jeffrey Ford's story has me admittedly perplexed. I feel like I'm missing something (which is probably the intention)...like it's one of those jokes that's so obvious that I should know the answer and I'm going to feel pretty lame when I either a) figure it out or b) give-up and someone tells me the answer.
John Klima
5. john_klima
@neutronjockey the Ford piece is a little...off...to say the least. My interpretation of it was that since you obviously never get any description of what "he does" your mind is free to create all sorts of scenarios of what is done.

And whatever it is that he does is certainly amazing, and potentially something that cannot be described and would need to be seen in person to truly understand.

I just really enjoyed the whole tease of it. Every time you thought Ford might give you a hint as to what was going on, he didn't.

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